Friday, May 16, 2008

Balochistan peace prospects

Balochistan peace prospects
By Sanaullah Baloch, Dawn, May 16, 2008

THE establishment in Pakistan has over the years ignored the advice of international agencies and human rights groups to exercise restraint in Balochistan.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) prepared two comprehensive reports on the provinces, urging Islamabad to stop using force and to initiate a dialogue on Balochistan’s political crisis. But all this had no impact on the powers that be.

After the Feb 18 elections, the PPP’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, tendered an informal apology for the injustices and excesses meted out to the Baloch. He also announced that an all-parties conference would be convened to start a comprehensive dialogue to end the crisis in Balochistan. His move was cautiously welcomed by the Baloch nationalist parties. They, however, insisted that consultation would only be held with the ruling coalition if it proved by its actions that it was in a position to overturn the establishment’s notorious polices of the past.

At present the province is going through a phase of hope and despair. Many believe that talks will repair the damage done. But others consider the peace offer as a tactical move by the establishment. An end to Balochistan’s bloodletting is certainly overdue. Earlier talks had failed because General Musharraf’s government wasn’t willing to negotiate on the issues that would diminish the establishment’s power over provincial matters.

According to Baloch leaders, the establishment is the key player in Balochistan. Without its willingness to relinquish its hold on the affairs of the province the Baloch will remain at odds with Islamabad.

Sardar Attaullah Mengal, a veteran Baloch politician, stated that “issues with regard to Balochistan are crystal clear”. It is no use quarrelling with the powerless Baloch about what they need. It is much more important to change the mindset of the powerful civil-military establishment.

Baloch nationalists have offered strong but clear terms for talks at the PPP-sponsored APC. The Jamhoori Watan Party has demanded that a murder case be registered against President Pervez Musharraf for the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti and other Baloch, security forces be fully pulled back from Dera Bugti and other areas, the military operation be ended, the ‘missing’ be traced, displaced people be rehabilitated, cantonments in Sui be dismantled and all political prisoners be released. The Balochistan National Party and the National Party along with other groups have presented a similar list of confidence-building measures as conditions for talks.

Amongst the Baloch, the JWP, BNP and Marri tribe are the most aggrieved parties in the conflict. JWP’s top leader and veteran Baloch nationalist Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and young Nawabzada Balach Marri lost their lives in cold-blooded operations. Mass displacement, killings, loss of property and disappearances have been reported from Dera Bugti and Kohlu districts. The BNP has suffered heavily on the political front. Its leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal was detained and kept in solitary confinement for 18 months. Activists disappeared, arbitrary arrests were made and property was destroyed.

It is generally recognised that the underlying differences between the Baloch and the establishment lie at the root of the unending crisis. The crisis of confidence between the Baloch and Islamabad hampers dialogue. The Baloch believe they have been robbed and betrayed by the establishment for the last 60 years. Hence the Baloch intelligentsia, political activists and the diaspora are reluctant to see their leadership sit across the table and negotiate with Islamabad without clear signs of a change in approach.

The establishment must come forward and wholeheartedly support the PPP’s reconciliation efforts, demonstrating its willingness to grant political autonomy to the provinces and allowing experienced and neutral international think-tanks and experts to devise a strategy for conflict management to facilitate the mediation process. Thus alone can the people’s trust be restored and a dialogue be initiated.

The truth and reconciliation process has been tested in several places all over the world. It envisages conflict prevention, resolution and management. In Balochistan, the conflict prevention process was thwarted by the establishment in December 2005. As stated by the ICG in its 2006 report, “by choosing confrontation, the Musharraf government bears responsibility for the state of the conflict in Balochistan”.

The key to peace lies in the cessation of hostilities and violent activities from both sides. This needs to be done through a formal process.

Unfortunately, the situation in Balochistan is frightening. The two sides have failed to reach any agreement on ending hostilities. As observed by NP leader, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, “the military and paramilitary troops are still active, their intelligence networks are still operational and are hounding people struggling for their rights”. Nawabzada Jamil Akbar Khan Bugti, son of late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, has also denied reports of withdrawal of security forces from Dera Bugti. He reported an attack by security forces in Dera Bugti just some days ago claiming that his tribesmen were in detention and were being tortured.

The PPP-led committee that has been set up must avoid following the futile road taken by the parliamentary committee on Balochistan created earlier. The bulk of its members were irrelevant and their presence complicated the political process. The process of reconciliation and conflict resolution must now be exclusive, involving real stakeholders and aggrieved parties from both sides so that talks can be held in depth.

The Baloch leadership — from the parties and the fighters — must be consulted exclusively to get it to nominate representatives to negotiate on political, economic, social and cultural issues. The establishment must be a party to the talks through the National Security Council.True Baloch nationalists, like a majority of pro-democracy parties in Pakistan, do not recognise the NSC as a democratic body, but unfortunately the NSC is the real establishment, comprising the civil-military elite. In any future talks, the NSC must be a part of the dialogue process to represent the establishment to address the issue of political decentralisation with reference to Balochistan. The third and important element should be the ruling coalition.

The success of the APC will depend on the good faith of the powerful — but unfriendly — establishment, whose policy dilemma has led to ceaseless centre-province confrontation.

The government must come up with a generous formula of granting substantial autonomy to the region. Otherwise, futile deliberations will further multiply political frustrations. n

The writer is a senator:

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